Instagram Stories: Organic and Advertising

BigStockPhoto ©

This article concludes our three-part series on Instagram. Part 1 introduced Kyle Neuroh of Neuroh Hardwood (@neurohhardwood) in Nashville, Tennessee; Julia and Phil Valenti of Valenti Flooring (@valentiflooring) in Ronkonkoma, New York; and Stephen King of SAP Hardwood Flooring (@sapwoodworking) and host of Floor Talk on Instagram.
Each of them uses Instagram to build their business and share their craft.

Part 2 explored why Instagram makes sense for business and shared hands-on tips for setting up a business account, navigating the app, and posting in the news feed.

Part 3, the final installment, digs deeper into using Instagram Stories’ organic and paid opportunities, creating ads, and monitoring results.

Instagram continues to grow in number of users, functionality, and activity. The statistics (see graphic on right) illustrate that Instagram means business.

Businesses are discovering the benefits of advertising on Instagram. Revenue is expected to reach $7 billion in 2018, according to data from Statista. That’s a nearly $5 billion increase from two years ago. That increase is due in part to new advertising options on Instagram, including options for advertising on Instagram Stories.

In August 2016, Instagram launched its Stories feature to compete with Snapchat. Users string together videos or photos from the past 24 hours, adding effects and layers, to create a temporary slideshow. As with Snapchat, Stories disappear after 24 hours, but can be viewed by a user’s followers at any time during the 24 hours after they’re posted. Since its introduction, the following features have been added:

  • Live video broadcasts that could be included in Instagram Stories
  • Skippable ads appearing between Stories as five-second photos and 15-second videos
  • Augmented reality face filters, similar to Snapchat
  • Story Search, which lets users find public Stories related to specific geographic locations
  • The ability to respond to Stories content with photos and videos that include filters, stickers, and hashtags
  • The ability to view Stories on Instagram’s mobile and desktop websites

The easiest and best way to get comfortable with Instagram  is to start using Stories “organically” – that is, just share photos and videos. Then, start experimenting with filters,
text, and drawings.

Stories Highlights and Archive
Introduced in December 2017, the Stories Highlights feature lets users group Stories together into highlights that stay on your profile until you remove them. Further, Instagram can automatically save Stories when they expire and keep them in the Stories Archive, which users can access on their profile. To create Instagram Stories Highlights:

  • Go to your profile and click on the arrow next to “Story Highlights” and click “New.”
  • Select the Instagram Stories that you want to add to your highlight.
  • After selecting Stories, choose a title and select a cover photo from the different Stories’ thumbnails.
  • To edit, remove, edit the cover, or change the name of a Highlight, tap and hold it on your profile.

Note: If you’ve posted to your Story (in the past 24 hours), a “Highlights” button will appear in the lower right corner of your screen, allowing you to bypass the process outlined above.

Stories Highlights are like a movie trailer where you can showcase your best work, introduce your people, or express your brand’s unique personality. They can feature up to 100 photos or videos, and you can create as many Stories Highlights as you want. Here are a few ideas:

  • Go behind the scenes. Show craftsmen doing what they do best, behind the scenes.
  • Display products or collections, grouping by type or style of project, for example.
  • Drop in on customers with a surprise gift or delivery, and capture it on video.
  • Produce short tutorials or how-to videos.
  • Interview happy customers or record their reactions when they see their finished floors.

The more you use the Stories Highlights feature, the more ideas you’ll come up with to keep them fresh and current.

More than 300 million Instagram users view Stories every day. The full-screen ads that appear between the Stories of people you follow are called Instagram Stories ads. Instagram offers several formats of ads for companies with business profiles.

Photo or Video Ads
Ads can be in the form of a full-screen photo or video (up to 15 seconds long); may include face filters or video effects; and will have a “Sponsored” label below the handle. Ads in Stories function the same as organic or personal Stories, so users can tap through, swipe back and forth, pause, and click on links.

Story ads will only appear when people are swiping directly from viewing one person’s story to another’s and can be skipped like a non-ad slide. However, unlike organic Stories, ads do not disappear after 24 hours, and they are supported by call-to-action buttons like “contact us,” “download,” and more.

Canvas Ads
Another option is Canvas Stories ads. Facebook Canvas is an app that enables Instagram users to create mobile-optimized video ads that load quickly and play smoothly. Instagram advertisers can use the provided templates to build ads or create custom ads with Canvas, also with call-to-action buttons.

Carousel Ads
Carousel Ads enable advertisers to combine three five-second images for a total 15-second ad – or three 15-second videos to create a total 45-second video. Advertisers can also combine five-second still images and 15-second videos for a total of three pieces of media. The time will range from 15 seconds to 45 seconds, depending on the combination.

Ads in Instagram Stories are ideal for showcasing short-term promotions, seasonal sales, product launches, how-tos, quick tips, and more. Not surprisingly, about one-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are created by businesses (Source: Instagram).

Recall from the August/September issue that to set up an Instagram Business Account, you must link to a Facebook Business page. (Remember, Facebook owns Instagram.) This gives you access to Facebook Ad Manager, a planning tool that walks you through choices regarding audience, format, frequency, budgets, and lets you monitor the performance of ads and campaigns for both Facebook and Instagram.

You can also use the Instagram Ads API or one of the more-than 40 companies Instagram partners with, including Buffer, Hootsuite, Salesforce, and Sprout Social to create ads. (Find a partner at

Instagram Stories ads are unique to the platform and need to be consistent with how users experience the platform and the Stories feature. With that in mind, following are some tips for creating Instagram Stories ads.

  • Speed it up. People tap through Stories faster than they scroll through their feeds, so messages must be quick and succinct.
  • Change scenes often. Use multiple shorter scenes rather a few long ones. A meta-analysis by MetrixLab, Inc. found that top-performing Stories ads had shorter scenes on average (e.g., 2.8 seconds) than lower performing ads (e.g., 4.1 seconds).
  • Add sound only for richness. According to a July 2017 Instagram study, 60 percent of video Stories are viewed with sound on. So craft Stories that use sound to enhance your message, but don’t require sound to be understood.
  • Build recall with bookends. Start and end the ad with a brand identifier and simple graphic. This will reinforce the brand, product, or message, and can also increase reach through higher search ranking.
  • Experiment and learn; repeat. Because of Instagram’s novelty, there aren’t many best practices yet; they’re still being invented. Experiment and learn by trial and error to find what works and create tomorrow’s best practices.

The best way to learn what’s working is by checking Instagram Insights, the analytics dashboard, to see which posts and Stories your audience sees and engages with the most. The dashboard also provides advertising insights and activity including metrics like reach, accounts reached, impressions, and impressions by day for both paid and organic activity. Access Insights from your profile by tapping this vertical bar graph symbol in the upper right corner.

To learn more about advertising on Instagram, visit

Instagram is one of the easiest social media platforms for businesses to use. All you need is the app and a smartphone. And there’s virtually no risk or expense if you start with organic posts and Stories. Once you get comfortable with organic posts, try advertising and see what happens. Set a goal and budget, stick to it for three to six months, track engagement and response, then decide if it’s worth the effort. Using Instagram is so quick and easy, you might even enjoy it!

Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, trainer, writer, and principal of Katrina Olson Marketing + Training. Reach her at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.